Government Agency

European Commission

Location:

Brussels, Belgium

Type:

European Union Executive Arm

President:

Ursula von der Leyen

Formation:

1967

The European Commission is the main executive arm of the European Union (EU). It conducts the majority of the management of the European Union’s budget,[1] and it is the only institution within the EU that can bring forward proposals for new laws. [2]

The Commission has been criticized for proposing the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement of Investment due to China’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, oppression of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, and the mass detention and alleged genocide of the Uyghur Muslim population. [3] The European Parliament blocked the deal due to China’s use of forced labor, mostly in the Xinjiang province in which Uyghurs and other minorities have been locked in “re-education” camps. [4]

The Commission has also been scrutinized for using Hikvision, a Chinese surveillance company linked with the internment camps, in its COVID-19 screening technology. [5]

Founding

The European Commission, founded in 1967, is an institution and the main executive arm of the European Union. The European Commission functions mainly to administer and implement EU policies and legislation, including formulating and spending the budget. It also drafts legislation; enforces EU law; and represents the EU internationally, including in international treaty negotiations. [6]

Originally, separate sectors (also known as “communities,”) of the European Union, such as the European Coal and Steel Community, had their own executive bodies and a commission for each two communities set up by the Treaty of Rome in 1957, which established the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. The executive arm and budgets of the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community, and the European Atomic Energy Community merged in 1965, resulting in the creation of the Commission of European Communities, now known as the European Commission. [7]

The European Coal and Steel Community treaty expired in 2002, resulting in all assets for the community being transferred to the European Commission. The Commission then took over the responsibility of finishing any outstanding operations of the European Coal and Steel Community, managing its asserts, and ensuring that research relating to the steel and coal industry continued. [8]

The European Commission is comprised of 27 “commissioners” known as “the college.” The president of the Commission, who is proposed by the Council of the European Union and voted for by EU Parliament members, selects one commissioner from every member state of the European Union. The commissioners are suggested by their home member states , but the final say on whether they can be put forward for the role comes from the European Council. [9]

The job of a commissioner includes making decisions on the policies and strategies of the European Commission, proposing laws, funding programs, and discussing the annual budget to be adopted by the European Parliament and the European Council. [10]

The European Commission is the only institution within the EU that can bring forward proposals for new EU laws, which are then debated in the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament. [11]

Funding

As an executive arm of the EU, the European Commission conducts the majority of the EU’s funding management. Most of its funding comes from member states, which agree on the size of the EU’s budget and on how it will be funded. [12]

The EU’s 2020 budget was set at €168 billion (approximately $205 billion) in commitments, or money that is agreed to be spent on contracts within a given year, and €153 billion (around $187 billion) in payment credits. [13]

Of the €168 billion (around $205 billion) in commitments for 2020, the budget allocated 36% to the “sustainable growth of natural resources,” 35% to “economic, social, and territorial cohesion,” 15% to “competitiveness for growth and jobs,” 6% to “global Europe,” 6% to “administration,” and 2% to “security and citizenship.” [14]

The European Union budget for 2020 also highlighted that it would prioritize 21% of the overall budget for creating environmentalist measures to address climate change. [15]

Approximately 80% of the EU’s outgoing funding is managed through programs administered by the European Commission and national authorities within the European Union. The European Commission manages budgets for projects operated by its departments, headquarters, and EU executive agencies. This includes selecting contractors, monitoring activities, transferring funds, and administering grants. [16]

More than half of all EU funding is done through the five European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), which the European Commission and countries within the EU jointly operate through partnership agreements. A country will prepare a partnership agreement in conjunction with the European Commission and then lead investment programs that will forward the money to projects concerned with the policies within the agreements. [17]

The five main areas of focus for the European Structural and Investment Funds include “digital technology, small business, research and innovation, sustainable management of natural resources, and supporting the low-carbon economy.” [18]

These areas are operated by the ESIF through its five funds, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), European Social Fund (ESF), the Cohesion Fund (CF), the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF). [19]

The European Commission also directly allocates the use of the EU budget. The Commission directly implemented 37,542 budgetary commitments in 2019, representing approximately 20% of the entire budget. This amounted to just under €23.7 billion (approximately $28.8 billion) for beneficiaries. The European Development Fund, also directly implemented by the European Commission, had 934 budgetary commitments in 2019 and paid out around €1.1 billion (around $1.3 billion) to all beneficiaries. [20]

Political Controversy

Contested Election

The European Commission and the European Council came under fire in July 2019 after the Council ignored the European Parliament’s “spitzenkandidat” (lead candidate) system by suggesting Ursula von der Leyen as its candidate to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as the leader of the Commission. [21]

The political groups of the European Parliament united to condemn the choice, as von der Leyen was not on the ballot paper as a candidate and had written no policy statement. Gonzalez Pons, a spokesperson for the right-of-center European People’s Party (EPP) of which von der Leyen is a member, called the decision a “lack of respect.” Pons commented that although the Council had the right to choose a candidate to lead the Commission, it did not have the right to “ignore all the candidates that have been voted for by European citizens” and claimed the decision was “not democracy.” [22]

Iratxe García Perez, leader of the left-of-center Party of European Socialists (PES), the second-largest cross-national faction in the European Parliament, said that the leaders of the European Union cannot “come here and just lay out the council position and say that we have to vote for it,” adding that the next president of the Commission should have been Frans Timmermans due to “the democratic rules that we’ve established.” [23]

Despite the condemnation, Ursula von der Leyen won the vote and holds current presidency of the European Commission, with a term through 2024.

China Policy

The European Commission finalized the draft of an agreement with China called the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement of Investment on December 30, 2020.

The investment deal, which was heavily delayed and as of February 2021 needed to be approved by the European Parliament, has been scrutinized by members of the European Parliament due to China’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, oppression of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, and mass detention and alleged genocide of Uyghur Muslims. [24]

The European Parliament blocked the deal due to China’s use of forced labor, mostly in the Xinjiang province in which Uyghurs and other minorities have been locked in “re-education” camps. The camps contain more than 100 on-site factories. [25]

French Member of European Parliament (MEP) Raphael Glucksmann said the deal “mocks the concentration camps and enslavement of a people.” [26] Commission President von der Leyen has claimed that the agreement will uphold European Union interests and promote its “core values.” [27]

The Commission has claimed that China has made an “important commitment” to “make continued and sustained efforts” to align itself with international standards on forced labor. The Commission further argued that it would “remain uncompromising as to using all tools possible to eradicate any form of forced labor.” According to Axios, the Chinese Communist Party denied allegations of its use of forced labor on December 30, 2020 and accused those who reported on the camps of “meddling in domestic affairs.” [28]

China ratified four of the eight fundamental labor conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO), including those on non-discrimination and child labor, on January 20, 2021. China did not, however, ratify a 1930 convention on forced labor and a 1957 convention on the abolition of forced labor. [29]

Despite the European Commission’s claims that it would be “uncompromising” in ensuring forced labor is eradicated, the Commission still uses the same Chinese surveillance company that has been linked to the internment camps which detain Uyghurs as of February 2021. [30]

Hikvision, the surveillance company used by the European Commission and European Parliament, was blacklisted by the Trump administration in 2019 due to it being “implicated in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups.” [31]

The surveillance company, in which the Chinese Communist Party holds a 40% controlling stake, is being used for COVID-19 screening through thermographic cameras at entrances to European Parliament and the European Commission’s main offices in Brussels. [32]

References

  1. Anonymous, “How the EU Is Funded,” European Union, January 4, 2021, https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/eu-budget/revenue-income_en#:~:text=The%20EU’s%20sources%20of%20income,financed%20several%20years%20in%20advance. ^
  2. “What Is the European Commission? ,” UK in a changing Europe, September 22, 2020, https://ukandeu.ac.uk/the-facts/what-is-the-european-commission/. ^
  3. Zachary Basu, “EU Strikes Investment Deal with China despite Forced Labor Concerns,” Axios, December 30, 2020, https://www.axios.com/eu-china-investment-deal-forced-labor-ed57a0aa-f11a-4b77-a01b-5d7f4d18f130.html. ^
  4. Zachary Basu, “EU Strikes Investment Deal with China despite Forced Labor Concerns,” Axios, December 30, 2020, https://www.axios.com/eu-china-investment-deal-forced-labor-ed57a0aa-f11a-4b77-a01b-5d7f4d18f130.html. ^
  5. Deutsche Welle (www.dw.com), “Exclusive: EU Taps Chinese Technology Linked to Muslim Internment Camps in Xinjiang: DW: 26.10.2020,” DW.COM, accessed February 22, 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/exclusive-eu-taps-chinese-technology-linked-to-muslim-internment-camps-in-xinjiang/a-55362125. ^
  6. “European Commission,” Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica, inc.), accessed February 22, 2021, https://www.britannica.com/topic/European-Commission. ^
  7. “The European Commission: Fact Sheets on the European Union: European Parliament,” Fact Sheets on the European Union | European Parliament, accessed February 22, 2021, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/factsheets/en/sheet/25/the-european-commission. ^
  8. “The European Commission: Fact Sheets on the European Union: European Parliament,” Fact Sheets on the European Union | European Parliament, accessed February 22, 2021, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/factsheets/en/sheet/25/the-european-commission. ^
  9. “The European Commission: Fact Sheets on the European Union: European Parliament,” Fact Sheets on the European Union | European Parliament, accessed February 22, 2021, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/factsheets/en/sheet/25/the-european-commission. ^
  10. “Political Leadership,” European Commission – European Commission, January 18, 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/info/about-european-commission/organisational-structure/how-commission-organised/political-leadership_en. ^
  11. “What Is the European Commission? ,” UK in a changing Europe, September 22, 2020, https://ukandeu.ac.uk/the-facts/what-is-the-european-commission/. ^
  12. Anonymous, “How the EU Is Funded,” European Union, January 4, 2021, https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/eu-budget/revenue-income_en#:~:text=The%20EU’s%20sources%20of%20income,financed%20several%20years%20in%20advance ^
  13. “2020 European Union Budget,” ec.europa.eu, accessed February 22, 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/about_the_european_commission/eu_budget/191127_eubudget-2020-factsheet.pdf . ^
  14. “2020 European Union Budget,” ec.europa.eu, accessed February 22, 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/about_the_european_commission/eu_budget/191127_eubudget-2020-factsheet.pdf . ^
  15. “2020 European Union Budget,” ec.europa.eu, accessed February 22, 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/about_the_european_commission/eu_budget/191127_eubudget-2020-factsheet.pdf . ^
  16. “Management of EU Funding,” European Commission – European Commission, April 9, 2019, https://ec.europa.eu/info/funding-tenders/how-eu-funding-works/management-eu-funding_en. ^
  17. “European Structural and Investment Funds,” European Commission – European Commission, August 1, 2018, https://ec.europa.eu/info/funding-tenders/funding-opportunities/funding-programmes/overview-funding-programmes/european-structural-and-investment-funds_en. ^
  18. “European Structural and Investment Funds,” European Commission – European Commission, August 1, 2018, https://ec.europa.eu/info/funding-tenders/funding-opportunities/funding-programmes/overview-funding-programmes/european-structural-and-investment-funds_en. ^
  19. “European Structural and Investment Funds,” European Commission – European Commission, August 1, 2018, https://ec.europa.eu/info/funding-tenders/funding-opportunities/funding-programmes/overview-funding-programmes/european-structural-and-investment-funds_en. ^
  20. “Financial Transparency System (FTS) – European Commission,” Financial Transparency System (FTS) – European Commission, accessed February 22, 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/budget/fts/index_en.htm. ^
  21. “European Parliament Condemns ‘Undemocratic’ behind-Closed-Doors Selection of New EU Commission President,” The Independent (Independent Digital News and Media, July 4, 2019), https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/european-commission-president-ursula-von-der-leyen-juncker-eu-parliament-a8987841.html. ^
  22. “European Parliament Condemns ‘Undemocratic’ behind-Closed-Doors Selection of New EU Commission President,” The Independent (Independent Digital News and Media, July 4, 2019), https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/european-commission-president-ursula-von-der-leyen-juncker-eu-parliament-a8987841.html. ^
  23. “European Parliament Condemns ‘Undemocratic’ behind-Closed-Doors Selection of New EU Commission President,” The Independent (Independent Digital News and Media, July 4, 2019), https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/european-commission-president-ursula-von-der-leyen-juncker-eu-parliament-a8987841.html. ^
  24. Zachary Basu, “EU Strikes Investment Deal with China despite Forced Labor Concerns,” Axios, December 30, 2020, https://www.axios.com/eu-china-investment-deal-forced-labor-ed57a0aa-f11a-4b77-a01b-5d7f4d18f130.html. ^
  25. Zachary Basu, “EU Strikes Investment Deal with China despite Forced Labor Concerns,” Axios, December 30, 2020, https://www.axios.com/eu-china-investment-deal-forced-labor-ed57a0aa-f11a-4b77-a01b-5d7f4d18f130.html. ^
  26. Jakob Hanke Vela, Eleanor Mears, and David M. Herszenhorn, “EU Nears China Trade Deal despite Slave Labor Fears,” POLITICO (POLITICO, December 22, 2020), https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-nears-china-trade-deal-despite-slave-labor-fears/. ^
  27. Ursula von der Leyen, “This Agreement Will Uphold Our Interests & Promotes Our Core Values. It Provides Us a Lever to Eradicate Forced Labour. We Are Engaging with China to:????Protect Our Climate under #ParisAgreement????Promote Rule-Based MultilateralismStatement ⤵️https://T.co/zraNQq4tub Pic.twitter.com/yJTQUT9NXW,” Twitter (Twitter, December 30, 2020), https://twitter.com/vonderleyen/status/1344275845641285632?s=20. ^
  28. Zachary Basu, “EU Strikes Investment Deal with China despite Forced Labor Concerns,” Axios, December 30, 2020, https://www.axios.com/eu-china-investment-deal-forced-labor-ed57a0aa-f11a-4b77-a01b-5d7f4d18f130.html. ^
  29. Staff Writer, “China’s Pledge on Forced Labor Saved Investment Deal: EU Envoy,” Nikkei Asia (Nikkei Asia, January 20, 2021), https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Caixin/China-s-pledge-on-forced-labor-saved-investment-deal-EU-envoy. ^
  30. Deutsche Welle (www.dw.com), “Exclusive: EU Taps Chinese Technology Linked to Muslim Internment Camps in Xinjiang: DW: 26.10.2020,” DW.COM, accessed February 22, 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/exclusive-eu-taps-chinese-technology-linked-to-muslim-internment-camps-in-xinjiang/a-55362125. ^
  31. Deutsche Welle (www.dw.com), “Exclusive: EU Taps Chinese Technology Linked to Muslim Internment Camps in Xinjiang: DW: 26.10.2020,” DW.COM, accessed February 22, 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/exclusive-eu-taps-chinese-technology-linked-to-muslim-internment-camps-in-xinjiang/a-55362125. ^
  32. Deutsche Welle (www.dw.com), “Exclusive: EU Taps Chinese Technology Linked to Muslim Internment Camps in Xinjiang: DW: 26.10.2020,” DW.COM, accessed February 22, 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/exclusive-eu-taps-chinese-technology-linked-to-muslim-internment-camps-in-xinjiang/a-55362125. ^
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European Commission


Brussels,
Belgium